Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Far from extinct

It disappeared from fossil records about 80 million years ago, extinct and existing only in the imagination. The heavy bodied, many finned fish with a distinctive three-lobed tail stayed that way until 1938, when one was caught off the coast of South Africa. Researchers announced July 16 2007, that another coelacanth has been caught off the coast of Zanzibar Tanzania.

This makes it the third location in Tanzania that one has been caught and adds to the growing list of countries that include: Comoros, Kenya, Indonesia, Mozambique and Madagascar. Fishermen in Nungwi, the northern reaches of Tanzania, informed the Institute of Marine Sciences in Tanzania's commercial capital and their catch was identified as a coelacanth.

Since their rediscovery in 1938, two types of coelacanth have been caught among the more than 180 that have been verified. The coelacanth has not changed it's shape in more than 400 million years and that feature has peaked the interest of scientists. What is now considered their breeding grounds, the Comoros, is not far from rich fossil deposits of their older relatives.

What has been discovered about the "extinct" fish is that they can live for about 80 years. They live in caves during the day and hunt at night. They normally feed on other fishes and squids and have no other known predetors other than large sharks and humans. Their blue bodies with it's white speckles, provide excellent camoflauge against the cave surfaces covered with oyster shells. The females are generally larger than the males and bear their young live, up to 26 at a time. They are capable of short bursts of speed but they generally spend their time cruising the waters very slowly.

Zanzabar will join the growing list of sites of having this rare fish found. This latest coelacanth wieghed in at 59.5 pounds and was 4.4 feet long. The discovery of them in the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa by recreational divers in 2000, has led to the formation of the ACEP. The developement of the African Coelacanth Ecosystem Program was launched in 2002 and while it's primary focus is the rare fish, it is hoped that it's research will have far ranging effects into the future.

Trade in the coelacanth is banned under the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

It seems that as technology advances, ancient times are being revealed and history revised.

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